Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Man who fell to Earth

Back in 1996 there was a film released starring David Bowie called “The Man who fell to Earth”.  Bowie played the part of Thomas Jerome Newton who was a humanoid alien who came to Earth to get water for his dying planet. He starts a high technology company to get the billions of dollars he needs to build a return spacecraft, and meets Mary-Lou, a girl who falls in love with him [obviously!]. He does not count on the greed and ruthlessness of business here on Earth, however.  But that was just a film … it wasn’t real … but could it be?

Fast forward 16 years and this weekend we saw Austrian Skydiver Felix Baumgartner become the first man to literally fall to earth by jumping out of a balloon 128,100ft (24 miles; 39km) above New Mexico.  This somewhat lunatic activity making him the first skydiver to go faster than the speed of sound, reaching a maximum velocity of 833.9mph and also smashing the record for the highest ever freefall.

In addition, another record has reportedly been broken.  Unofficial figures show that the live stream of Baumgartner’s jump received over 7.1 million views surpassing the 500,000 YouTube live stream views record for the London Summer Olympics.

But why would he want to do this?  At Sunday’s jump altitude, the air pressure is less than 2% of what it is at sea level, and it is impossible to breathe without an oxygen supply.  Others who have tried to break the records have lost their lives in the process.

Well the researchers on the Red Bull Stratos project say it has already provided invaluable data for the development of high-performance, high-altitude parachute systems, and that the lessons learned will inform the development of new ideas for emergency evacuation from vehicles, such as spacecraft, passing through the stratosphere and indeed NASA and its spacecraft manufacturers have asked to be kept informed.

He says he is motivated in part by scientific endeavour, the desire to see what the human body can achieve. But Baumgartner is also spurred on by the desire to see what no-one else has seen, to be alone at the highest reaches of the skies.

He has built up to this latest stunt by undertaking various other dangerous activities such as in 1999 when he set the world record for the highest parachute jump from a building when he jumped from the Petronas Towers in a Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  The twin skyscrapers were the tallest buildings in the world at the time, only overtaken by the Taipei 101 in 2004. Naturally, in 2007, he also jumped off the Taipei 101.   He then went to the opposite end of the scale, completing the world’s lowest ever base jump from the 30m-high arm of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro.    He followed this in 2003 by becoming the first person to literally fly across the English Channel.  Using a pair of specially made carbon fibre wings, Baumgartner leapt from a plane above Dover, landing 22 miles (35km) away in Cap Blanc-Nez near Calais just 14 minutes later.

I can’t help but worry about what he might do next, and will it be the last thing he ever does.  It would appear that his need for danger is addictive and each time he does something it is bigger and more dangerous than the last.  I just hope that this doesn’t end up as life imitating art.  After all, throughout the film of “The Man who fell to Earth” there are brief sequences of Newton’s wife and children back on his home planet, slowly dying, and by the end of the film they are dead and Newton is stuck on Earth, broken, alcoholic, and alone.

This time Red Bull “gave him wings”.  I just hope they are still there to help him fly the next time, whatever or whenever that might be!

Going down?

I’ve been reading an article today about the reasons why we behave so oddly in lifts.

Many of us use them several times a day without really noticing.   And yet the way we behave in lifts, or elevators as they are known in the US, reveals a hidden anxiety.   Most of us sort of shut down.   We walk in. We press the button. We stand perfectly still.

So why are we so awkward in lifts?

It is probably because you don’t have enough space.  Usually when we meet other people we have about an arm’s length of distance between us but that’s not possible in most lifts so it’s a very unusual setting.  It’s unnatural.   In such a small, enclosed space it becomes vital to act in a way that cannot be construed as threatening, odd or in any way ambiguous.  The easiest way to do this is to avoid eye-contact completely.

But perhaps there is more to it than just social awkwardness.  Perhaps it is more about being trapped inside this small enclosed space if the lift breaks down.  Regular Twitter followers will remember Stephen Fry’s amusing tweet when he got stuck in a lift at Centre Point in London in 2009 – it made the national news!  The reality of course is far from amusing as you have no idea how long it will be before you are set free from your incarceration and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably be desperate to go to the toilet as well!

One thing I always do now when entering a lift is to read the name of the manufacturer which is usually displayed on the plaque where you find the buttons to operate the darn thing.  This goes back to when I worked on the 4th floor of a building in Edinburgh and each time I got in, I smiled inwardly, saying to myself “Schindler’s Lift”!  Not very mature I know, but it always made me smile [and colleagues groan!].

For what it’s worth, if the thought of travelling in a machine that’s moving and over which you have no control, you can’t see its engine and you don’t know how it’s working fills you with dread – err on the side of caution and take the stairs!

Will Biden keep the Veep?

It is said that you learn something new every day and today I have learned that the shortened form of VP (Vice President) of the United States is “Veep”.

The forthcoming elections see Paul Ryan for the Republicans and Joe Biden for the Democrats fighting it out for the title and they are about to go head to head in a live TV debate later today.   Joe Biden is already the Vice President, having held this office since 2009, while Paul Ryan is the Republican Congressman for Wisconsin.

As is always the case in politics, it is easy to find stories that will discredit the individuals and make us doubt their integrity.  For instance, Paul Ryan once said he’d run a marathon in under three hours – but later admitted it was more likely four, while Joe Biden pulled out of the presidential nomination race in 1987 after allegations that he’d plagiarised part of a speech by the then Labour Leader, Neil Kinnock.

But what exactly is a Veep and do they matter?

Well they are expected to take over if the president is no longer able to govern – hence the phrase “only a heartbeat away from the presidency”.   This has happened 14 times in total, including when JFK was assassinated and when Richard Nixon resigned. They preside over the Senate and cast a deciding vote.   In the 1930’s, Vice-President John Nance Garner described the role as “not worth a bucket of warm spit”, but many vice-presidents now take on important portfolios and act as a “sounding-board” for the president.

Perhaps more attractive is the opportunity it can present.  The VP office often serves as a springboard to a later presidential bid – George Bush Senior, and Al Gore were both VPs first.

A sticky situation

I have great admiration for you if you are one of the millions of Londoners who stoically battles through the Tube’s rush hour commute.  I lasted precisely 12 months before I decided that life was too short and got a job closer to home.  Anyone who does use this mode of transport regularly will probably agree that it is uncomfortable, tedious and unreliable.

On your journeys you will no doubt have passed dozens of Transport for London signs and notices.   But how much attention do you actually pay to them?  Has their familiarity as part of everyday visual clutter led to them becoming almost invisible, losing all meaning beyond shape and colour?

Take the following examples:

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It would seem that there is a growing trend where people strategically place stickers over London Transport’s own messages.  They use the same fonts and designs as London Underground’s famous branding, but they subvert the intended message making often amusing but sometimes serious points about anything from overcrowding to Tube etiquette.

London Transport are not amused at this latest craze and liken it to graffiti which they say is “unwanted vandalism that causes criminal damage” and “will not be tolerated”.

I disagree.  Graffiti is much harder to remove, whereas these stickers can probably be taken off with just a bowl of hot soapy water?  Besides, where is their sense of humour?  Surely anything that can bring a smile to the face of a commuter can only be a good thing?

Think before you tweet!

I am all for freedom of speech but there are a few basic rules to follow when you decide to use Social Media sites such as Twitter and Facebook or if, like me, you want to also blog as well.  The main one being:

Think before you hit the Post or Publish button!

This advice is never more important than if you are a person who is already in the public eye – footballers especially please take note!  Some of the worst offenders have been:

  • Manchester United and England defender Rio Ferdinand who was fined £45,000 in August for bringing the game into disrepute after responding to a racially-suggestive tweet about Ashley Cole
  • Arsenal midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong was also fined £6,000 in the same month after he used a derogatory term about Tottenham fans
  • Then Liverpool winger Ryan Babel was fined £10,000 in January 2011 after he linked to a mocked-up picture of referee Howard Webb in a Manchester United shirt

So there was little surprise this morning when I read that Ashley Cole has been charged with misconduct by the Football Association in relation to a Twitter comment he posted about the governing body.   Responding to the FA’s judgement in the John Terry racism case, he tweeted on Friday: “Hahahahaa, well done #fa I lied did I, #BUNCHOFT***S”.   He has now deleted this tweet and issued an “unreserved apology” to the FA but the damage has already been done and he has until 16:00 BST on Thursday, 11 October to respond to the charge.

However, when former England captain Alan Shearer told the BBC at the weekend that Cole should be banned for Friday’s World Cup qualifier against San Marino as a punishment, Cole, 31, then responded by retweeting a message which criticised Shearer.  When will he learn?

Former England left-back Graeme Le Saux is working with the FA to guide players on how they communicate.  The former Southampton, Chelsea and Blackburn Rovers defender Le Saux is currently helping to make videos for the FA which will be shown to players about how the governing body operates and the punishments they can hand out for unacceptable behaviour, including the use of social media.  He said this weekend – “The whole pleasure and access that social media gives you is that you are in control of what goes out there, but you must be sensible enough to hold that back.”

Social Media is not for people to bully, insult or intimidate, it is for communication.  My advice to these players is straightforward.  Instead of using your hands to type insulting messages for all to see, try just using your feet to kick a ball – this is after all what you’re being paid for!!!

Another milestone reached!

I would like to thank each and every one of you for your support and for stopping by my site – even it it was only once.  I had no idea when I started writing this blog that it would become so addictive and the majority of feedback that I’ve received has been extremely positive.  I now have some terrific, loyal followers who I intend to continue to entertain with my light-hearted look at what’s happening in the world.

The Why Factor?

And so we find ourselves at that time of year when our weekend TV entertainment is taken over once again by reality shows!

Now I must admit that I am a bit of a fan of Strictly Come Dancing [if I can ignore the bits where the geriatric Bruce Forsyth mumbles his way painfully through the bad script on his autocue while Tess Daly smiles through gritted teeth every time he touches her, or the fact that the new judge, Darcey Bussell, is possibly the most irritating woman in the history of television!].  What I like most about this show is the opportunity to see the professional dancers show us that Latin and Ballroom dancing is still an art form to be enjoyed.

On the other side we are then subjected to the X Factor which, for me, has surely passed its sell-by date?  Last night saw the return of the live shows in the studio and once again I was underwhelmed by the so-called talent up on stage.  I’m not sure precisely where any of these people come from but I am pretty confident that there are much better performers in the local pubs and clubs than the sorry few that make it to this stage of the competition.  Perhaps it sounds different to the people in the studio but to us at home it can be rather embarrassingly awful to sit through.

I also wonder what the contestants themselves think will happen after their 15 minutes of fame?  Previous winners have all but disappeared from the face of this earth with some maybe achieving a few column inches in various tabloid newspapers for wearing something awful or falling out of a nightclub – a lasting career in the music business?  I seriously doubt it!  We listen to Louis, Tulisa, Nicole and Gary banging on about finding someone “current” and “exciting” and we are then subjected to distinctly average covers of songs by the likes of Queen, Spandau Ballet and John Lennon?  What’s that all about?

There is a glimmer of hope this evening however.  Season 2 of Homeland starts on Channel4 at 9.00pm.  If it is as gripping as Season 1 then we’re in for a treat!

New Look

After almost 18 months of the same style, I’ve decided to try out a new, more modern format to the blog.  I hope you like it – please let me know!  Thanks a million.

Hula Hoop or just plain loopy?

It wouldn’t be Paris Fashion Week without something outlandish to hit the headlines.  This year is no exception with the introduction of Karl Lagerfeld’s giant hula hoop Chanel handbag which is apparently designed to be used as a beach bag!

Surely this is this the biggest bag ever? Women will never have to complain about not having  enough room in their handbag ever again!

I do hope he hasn’t missed a trick and that the bag bit can be removed for a bit of hula hooping exercise on the beach!!

Please support Breast Cancer awareness month

Unless you’ve been living on another planet for the last few years, you will be aware that October marks Breast Cancer Campaign’s action month.  The event aims to raise awareness about the devastating disease, its effects and ways to prevent it throughout October.

Last night London’s skyline was speckled with pink as its most famous landmarks were lit up in support of the UK’s leading breast cancer research charity.  Buckingham Palace, Nelson’s Column, the Tower of London and the BT Tower were among the capital’s icons that were bathed in a rosy pink glow.

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I am sure there will be plenty of fundraising activities going on in your area, but you can also donate whatever you can afford on the Breast Cancer Campaign website at: http://www.breastcancercampaign.org/about-us.  The money is vital as the statistics speak for themselves:

  • Breast cancer is the most common cancer
  • Around 47,700 women and 340 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year
  • One woman in eight will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime
  • Around 12,000 women and 90 men will die from breast cancer each year
  • More people are surviving breast cancer than ever before
  • 80% of people with breast cancer are still alive five years after diagnosis
  • People are surviving longer thanks to advances in research, new treatments, earlier diagnosis, breast screening and breast cancer awareness

As one of the 80% – it is now almost 10 years since my diagnosis – I would urge you to give generously to help people like me survive this horrible disease and, in time, find a way to prevent it.  Thank you.

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